How to Do Your Own PR
Updated: Mar 25
The Ultimate Guide on Doing Your Own PR
Before reading the below how-to I would like to preface this with a recent post from a well-respected journalist outlining the reason why he prefers to work with journalists and ignores “pitches that come from individuals themselves.”
Publicists want to maintain a good relationship with the journalist, so they are polite, courteous and professional. Individuals don't care as much. I have received the most egregiously rude emails from individuals who tried to do it themselves.
Having a publicist is like one step in a vetting process. It usually means the interviewee has a certain degree of success and savvy.
The publicist invests energy to make sure the images sent in are good quality, the content is well-edited, etc. Without a publicist, it's usually not the case. In almost all cases, interviews that come back with the assistance of publicist come out much, much better.
Publicists usually understand the system: e.g.: you can't make changes after its live, it won't come down after its live, you can't suggest headlines, you can't review it before it's published, you can't pay money to a journalist, etc. etc. Individuals don't understand this.
Yes, this may not be the case with all journalists. So, I give you the below guidance if you choose to go it alone.
According to Forbes, as much as one-third of the U.S. workforce will be self-employed by the end of 2020. That explains why so many business owners are becoming DIY public relations agents. As a small business owner, you may be able to save a small fortune by learning how to do your own PR and once your brand reaches the level of visibility and success you’re striving for, you can reward yourself by hiring an experienced, reputable public relations (PR) firm who will take over from there.
Until then, applying practical PR tips advances your brand’s visibility and social engagement, and cultivates the positive reputation required to be successful in a fiercely competitive business market. Achieving that level of brand legitimacy requires demystifying what PR is and how public relations professionals go about it.
This guide distills public relations how-tos down to five general areas.
What is PR and what’s the point?
How PR differs from marketing
Identifying your company’s story (and how to own your, expertise, niche, and prowess)
Earned Media (what it is, why you want it, how you get it)
Measuring your PR results
Ready? Set? Let’s Go...
What is PR and What’s the Point?
To define PR, we go directly to the source - the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA):
Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across numerous platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.
While PR is a 20th-century concept, the strategies, themes, and modalities continue to evolve in response to societal and cultural shifts combined with technological advancement.
The trickiest thing about PR is that companies have to straddle the border between humility and boastfulness, especially when getting their brand up and off the ground. Successful publicity and relationship building do not happen because you’re incessantly bragging about being the best fill-in-the-blank in the world; they transpire as followers, investors, employees, media gurus, major influencers, fellow industry experts, and loyal customers boast to the world about how great you are.
When that happens, repeatedly - over extended periods - garnering awards, newsworthy mentions, or record revenues – only then you may boast a little (but only so much and no more). Like we said, it’s a tricky balance.
We also recommend taking advantage of the wealth of free webinars, videos, and affordable, multi-week, PR courses available to you via the internet. If you’re going to tackle the PR beast on your own, or with a small, in-house team, recurring deep-dives into PR basics are essential to your success.
PRSA identifies the multiple disciplines and functions of successful PR strategies as:
Crisis Communications (even bad press is good press when you handle is quickly and professionally; savvy crisis response can benefit your brand)
Investor Relations Communications
Integrated Marketing/Integrated Marketing Communications
Media Relations (cultivate genuine relationships/connections with key media personas)
Events (get yourself out there in front of the right audience members)
Social Media (prioritizing social media channels your target audience uses most)
Speechwriting (pay for a speechwriting consultant if public speaking isn’t your forte)
While this guide won’t dive into them all, it’s worth visibly posting a list of key PR disciplines and functions in your office. They’ll keep you focused on a more well-rounded approach as you tailor your business’s PR strategies and practices, and the comprehensive list will prevent you from one of the biggest DIY PR mistakes - confusing PR with marketing.
How PR Differs From Marketing
It was easier to view PR from a holistic approach prior to the digital era. Things moved slower and it was easier to develop personal relationships with press and media influencers because communities were smaller and more engaged on a face-to-face level by nature. As times have evolved, and screen/digital media moved to the forefront, it’s been easy for younger business owners and entrepreneurs to equate PR with digital marketing.
While marketing is a major component of PR, it is only one component of the whole. Within the past decade, major public relations firms divide their mission into two categories: traditional PR and digital PR, and strategize accordingly.
It’s also important to distinguish that PR has far more to do with telling a story, managing that story, and editing and re-creating the story. If need be, that includes editing the story in the face of negative press or a brand crisis. The majority of PR work is actually free in terms of cash (but costly in terms of labor/energy expense). This is different from marketing, which almost always requires some type of paid advertising or investment.
Here are some quick PR vs. Marketing comparisons to highlight the difference:
ACTIVITIES/TACTICS PR - Focused on big-picture, long-term reputation management via typical positive digital, media, and stakeholder coverage Marketing - Uses promotions, direct ads, and other outlets to focus on real-time campaigns that direct sales
TARGETED AUDIENCE PR - Broadcasts and shares information to make a positive impression on anyone who has an interest in the business, from customers to employees and investors Marketing - Creates content and information almost solely for qualified prospects, leads, and customers
DIFFERENCE IN GOALS PR - Focuses on selling the company and the brand image Marketing - Focuses on direct sales of products and services
FOCUS OF MESSAGE LEGITIMACY PR - Tries to move content and information onto/into more reputable platforms and media channels to gain/maintain legitimacy. Marketing - Is more concerned about promoting sales messages anywhere and everywhere, and the majority are created in-house.
QUANTIFYING ROI PR - ROI is challenging to measure because it is based more on public image, feelings, and beliefs about your company and brand. The arc is often longer. Marketing - ROI is easier to measure because there is a direct and immediate correlation between click-throughs, ads/sales, campaigns, and numbers-based revenue.
LONGEVITY PR - As mentioned above, a PR arc is long. PR pros are working in forward-thinking, big-picture, and long-view. Marketing - Marketing experts are forward-thinking and following trends but campaigns/ads/promotions are typically cyclical with clear, shorter start-to-finish timelines.
Identifying Your Company/Brand’s Story
Clearly identifying your brand/company story is essential for PR work to be successful. Your story and its emotional impacts are the stuff that solid PR strategies are spun from, and that marketing will utilize to leverage interest, engagement, trust, and sales. As a business owner, your company’s story is typically your story in one form or another. This is an essential component to understand.
If your personal or company story lacks definition, confidence, or a true and empowered owning of your own expertise, prowess, your PR story will fall flat. Amazon’s story is a prime (pun intended) example of how story and brand unite.
Owner Jeff Bezos (former vice president of a Wall Street firm) knew exactly what he wanted to create, an unrivaled internet store that brought goods directly to consumer’s doors in record time. After a couple of trials-and-errors, he settled on the brand name Amazon because, “The Amazon River, he noted, was the biggest river in the world, and he planned to make his store the biggest bookstore in the world.” Also, Bezos started out selling and shipping the five things he felt were easiest to sell online (books, CDs, videos, and computer software and hardware). Then, he launched the business out of a garage and used $250,000 invested by his parents. Once the stage was set, he quickly moved into a larger location and exponentially increased the goods he sold/shipped to serve the needs of online shoppers.
That single paragraph, sums up Bezos’s expertise, the ultimate business goal, how he curated a savvy brand name/image and it has telling story points. That is the beginning of great PR. Your story should allow people to get to know you, trust you, and like you.
Don’t forget the importance of an empowered mindset
Dina Behrman is a UK-based PR expert who helps women grow their businesses. In an article on Forbes.com Behrman emphasizes the importance of developing an empowered mindset around your personal expertise, wisdom, and specialized niches; acknowledge them and claim them. Without a certain level of confidence in what your brand brings to the world, its story lacks backbone and will be less compelling to prospective audience members.
Underselling yourself, deferring to others’ expertise, and undercharging for products and services will stymie PR momentum.
Earned Media (what it is, why you want it, how you get it)
As mentioned above, your story – aka the foundation of your PR mission - is really about people getting to know you, trust you, and like you. This could also be viewed as cultivating brand legitimacy, trust, and a solid reputation. When you gain that level of public recognition, your brand has better opportunities to be featured via media publications or channels governed by editorial control.
Earned media features are a great sign that your PR is paying off. If you are implementing the right strategies, and your marketing team is sound, earned media is the natural payoff. The best form of earned media is top-tier coverage – meaning your brand’s presence in major media publications, productions, and spotlights. Daily, positive mentions, are the ultimate sign that you have arrived.
The less-good news is that earning media attention from major influencers and legitimate journalists is easier said than done. Earned media can mean being featured or recommended in an op-ed, interviewed on a podcast with a generous following, gaining mention or more elaborate promotion on a website, blog, or other social media trendsetter, etc.
In order to earn that, you’ll need to:
Establish a following and active website and social media platforms
Understand and focus on the media channels and outlets most likely to be viewed, read or consumed by your target audience(s)
Identify small-, medium-, and big-time influencers in your industry
Build steady, long-term relationships with said influencers
Engage with, follow, and build relationships with local/distant reputable journalists with an interest in your industry/brand
De-prioritize press releases and, instead, utilize relationships with influencers/journalists via meet and greets, email communication (to specific addresses, not the general one given at the end of many articles), social media channels and Tweets, so you can comfortably approach them with ideas and pitches that are interesting/relevant to them, their audience, and the larger newsfeed.
Then, use a wide variety of methods to write up and promote your ideas. These include good ol’ fashioned press releases and sending emails to key editors, journalists and influencers to writing guest blogs, and interviewing industry movers/shakers who will then feature that interview via their own networks and channels. Consider doing product reviews, landing guest appearances on local news shows, radio segments, and podcasts, or providing topical commentary when news features cover topics, products, or services relevant to your brand.
Your business may do well locally via highly-targeted marketing and less emphasis on PR and is likely to make decent splashes here and there. However, if you lack a full-fledged PR strategy those splashes will never accumulate into bona fide waves that consistently make it to shore. That’s the kind of power you need to continually grow your brand. Applying the right PR tips and strategies will take you to that next level, yielding recurring top-tier media attention.
Finally, don’t forget that earned media attention can also be your greatest ally in the face of a brand crisis. If influencers trust you, and like you, they’ll stand by you in the hard times to help your brand rise out of the ashes resulting from an internal scandal or general bad publicity. If you haven’t used consistent PR strategies to build a widespread, positive brand reputation, 9-1-1 marketing strategies won’t be able to pull you out of the crisis quagmire.
Understanding the importance of measuring PR results
Remember the table above that compared PR vs. marketing? We mentioned that it’s more difficult to measure the ROI from PR the same way we can with marketing/sales. This is because it is more challenging to quantify the public’s thoughts, opinions, or feelings about you. Measuring PR results requires a combo analysis of public mentions, spotlights, and visibility - and the sentiments associated with those mentions - along with marketing-based benchmarks, metrics, and analytics.
Measuring the success of your PR team planning
To measure the success of your PR team’s planning, and the resulting public reactions to your brand voice, you’ll depend on two different sets of data: key performance indicators and key output metrics.
Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
While PR is not marketing, your marketing team’s KPI are a good litmus test of how your brand is doing in the larger, public sphere. If your brand image is up, the numbers will be too. These include:
Website referral traffic
Key output metrics
Key output metrics analyze your earned media credits and indicate whether your planning, strategies, and actions are paying off via credible media mentions. Key output metrics quantify:
Media mentions (Google Alerts and SocialMention are great tools to support this)
Share of voice (how do your media mentions compare with competitors in terms of both numbers and sentiment/opinion)
Number of backlinks earned
End audience reach (are earned media mentions visible to your target audience or are they being sent out there into left field?)
Continued analysis – always looking back at the last benchmark and assessing if you’ve achieved the next set of goals in a timely manner – provides long-view measurements of your PR successes, flat lines, or failures. These results allow you to regroup and re-strategize. If your brand isn’t performing the way you had hoped, continue reviewing the original bullet point topics pertaining to the disciplines and functions of successful PR, and make sure you’re addressing them all in your own PR planning.
One more piece of advice when doing your own PR work – don’t hesitate to contact experienced PR firms and take advantage of fee-based consultations. In addition to deepening your PR prowess, you’ll get a feel for which firm is the best fit when your brand is financially able to support professional PR experts that let you get back to doing the work you were made to do.